At a recent photo shoot, a few of us were standing around lamenting that we don't have a go-to pumpkin pie. Or that our go-to is so involved that it's more akin to an awkwardly choreographed square dance, and stresses us out and furrows our faces just reading it. Feast day recipes shouldn't require memorizing three steps ahead for success -- it won't end well (and so on with the lamenting).
Then along comes Amanda's mother Judy Hesser, an untouchable cook (we're talking Chocolate Dump-It Cake and Peach Tart untouchable). She casually said she was fond of an old recipe that has you cook down the pumpkin to caramelize it.
That alone was enough to sell me -- it sounded like a pie with guts, that wouldn't just sit there phoning in the pumpkin flavor, and burying it under lots of spice. But when I made Amanda dig up the recipe -- in the two-volume gem Meta Given's Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking (the overlooked step-sister of The Joy of Cooking and Fannie Farmer) -- the genius of the recipe was much more than that.
You don't have to blind bake the crust. You use real milk and cream instead of evaporated milk, with predictably way-better results. And because you blast it at 400 degrees the whole time, it bakes in 25 minutes -- less than half the time of your average back-of-the-can recipe.
Are you thinking, "But it's a custard pie! How can it sustain such abuse?" I told you this was a pie with guts. I credit the cream, and the chilled pie shell.
A few words of caution -- if your crust is rolled especially thick, or your pie dish is glass instead of tin, or you loathe underdone bottom crust, you might still want to blind bake it a little. But if none of these apply, you (and your bottom crust) are golden.
Caramelizing the pumpkin doesn't stick to the dry saucepan like you may worry it will (it's moist enough that it basically keeps deglazing itself -- that's real science). And it does everything you'd hope for the flavor -- pumpkin, and proud of it.
The creamy custard base puts this pie less in the league of its sturdy-jiggly evaporated milk brethren, and more on the way to a regal chiffon mousse (without the gelatin and whipped egg whites and fear). Which means at the end of all the Thanksgiving brouhaha, you may only want a small slice, and you might not even need the whipped cream (but make sure you have a bowlful, just to be safe). And -- oh well! -- that just means more left to eat cold for breakfast on Friday.
Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].
Photos by James Ransom
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I'm an ex-economist, ex-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."